My Brother’s Bar owner creates high-tech phone system for restaurants

As Denver’s oldest operating bar, My Brother’s Bar never had an automated phone system, online ordering or reservations before the pandemic. Like the age of the bar, everything was old school.

“But when we converted our parking lot to a patio and added the Aspenglobes out there for the winter, we just started getting inundated with calls here,” owner Danny Newman said. “Everyone was asking about reservations and wait times, and our staff was swamped.”

Last year, Newman, a mobile tech entrepreneur who bought the legendary bar and burger joint in 2017, decided to create a solution, not just for My Brother’s Bar, but for other restaurants and bars that have similar problems keeping up with phone calls.

That solution is called Switchboard and it takes the pressure off of the staff by by answering callers’ questions, something that hundreds of hours a month, Newman said.

Here’s how it works. As soon as a customer calls, they get a text message with visual information to select options such as online ordering, joining the waitlist or making a reservation. So, rather than navigating the usual phone tree of dial 1 for this or dial 2 for that, customers can see the information they need and act on it instantly. Simultaneously, they hear a computerized voice that answers common questions like that day’s hours or wait times.

All of the information is updated using the tools and software that My Brother’s Bar — and many other restaurants — are already using, like Resy or Yelp, and businesses can customize what the voice says and sounds like. The only thing employees need to update on their own is details about a special event, like a performer or game on the TV (except the TV-less My Brother’s Bar doesn’t need to worry about that).

“We’re learning the types of questions that people are asking, like wait time, reservations, dog-friendliness and COVID restrictions, so we can start to change how we answer a call based on the rise and fall of questions,” Newman said. “Currently, My Brother’s Bar has had a 90 percent reduction in calls through to an employee because we’re able to answer their questions ahead of time.”

Switchboard costs $100 a month per restaurant location, and a few well-known names, like Atomic Cowboy, Illegal Pete’s, Snooze and Anthony’s Pizza & Pasta, have already signed on to use the product this year at most, if not all of their locations.

“Switchboard absolutely helps with efficiency,” said Illegal Pete’s head of IT Rob Barron. “We’re a restaurant, not an office building, so our employees are spending their time doing what they need to be doing, which is serving the customer, and customers are getting what they need, which is information about our restaurant and questions answered in a timely fashion.”

Barron added that all of Illegal Pete’s 12 locations are using Switchboard.

It didn’t take long for Newman, who has been a mobile tech nerd for two decades, to create Switchboard. He was already working on a visual mobile technology company called Smart Prompt that would respond to any customer calling any business with a visual component, whether that’s a menu for a restaurant customer or an order confirmation for a retail customer.

Before My Brother’s Bar, Newman’s first mobile tech business was an SMS service that sent info about upcoming raves, and it eventually got picked up by bars and clubs in the early 2000s. He then started a delivery company called zuvo, which was a sort of earlier version of Postmates, while attending the University of Colorado Boulder.

And he still shakes his head about Mobiom, the app he created to exchange money via texts (pretty much what Venmo is now), but the banks and carriers didn’t quite get it yet. Then he founded Roximity, a location-based advertising platform, in 2011 and sold it in 2016.

“A lot of my ideas were pretty much before their time,” he said.

Newman has also gotten deeply involved in preserving some of Denver’s landmark spaces. In addition to My Brother’s Bar, Newman purchased Mercury Cafe, a 32-year-old bohemian hangout in Five Points, last year. He’s also working on other slowly developing projects, such as Colfax Country Club on West Colfax Avenue, and a conceptual new building near Denver Rock Drill for artists that’s still on (or potentially off) the drawing board.

Switchboard, which he started with his Roximity co-founders Austin Gayer, Dusty Candland, and Kevin Owens, is his re-entrance into the mobile tech world. Newman said he working on launching the tech solution for out-of-state restaurants as well.

“I’m just surprised this is the one no one has thought of before,” Newman said.

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